An Ice Climbing Trip to Northern New England
North Conway, New Hampshire
I look at climbing not so much as standing on the top as seeing the other side.
There are always other horizons in front of you, other horizons to go beyond and that’s what I like about climbing.
~ Chris Bonington
There is rich history and lore around ice climbing in New Hampshire. During a good ice year, one is welcomed by cold conditions and long and continuous lines of plastic ice for hundreds of feet. Between Frankenstein area, Rumney, Crawford Notch, and Mount Washington valley there are many options and routes of varying difficulty and length. Located in the middle of all this is North Conway, New Hampshire, a true mountain town.
In January 2017 my friend Jesse and I decided to make a trip out east to North Conway to go ice climbing in the White Mountains. Jesse and I were both flying from San Diego and were planning on meeting Justin and Dan in North Conway itself. Both Justin and Dan live in upstate New York, so North Conway was just a short drive away for them.
Teddy, doing a final inspection of my gear!
Jesse and I at Logan International Airport, Boston.
North Conway, NH
Since we were tired from our flight and a long drive, on the first day we decided to take it easy and planned on climbing, the Hitchcock Gully (WI3) on Mt. Willard in Crawford Notch. The lower Hitchcock Gully was mostly filled with snow with short sections of ice and mixed climbing. The upper Hitchcock Gully, as well as East slabs, had some good ice. We spent all day climbing on Mt. Willard only to get down when it got dark. We then drove into town for some beer and food!
The approach to Hitchcock Gully, Mt. Willard, Crawford Notch
Getting ready to get on ice
East Slabs (Left), Mt Willard, Crawford Notch
Upper Hitchcock Gully, WI3. Mt Willard
Next day we decided to climb the Shoestring Gully on Mt Webster. During a good ice year, the Shoestring Gully can have up to 2000 feet of WI2, with a spicy 5.6 rock finish option available. The gully which splits the mountain in half allows the climbers to go all the way to the summit of Mt Webster. Unfortunately for us, there had been some recent snowfall and so most of our climb was once again a mix of steep snow climbing with ice and mixed sections. The four of us climbing closely all the way to the last pitch. Here Jesse and Dan decided to take the standard snow finish while Justin and I decided to take the steeper rock/ mixed finish. As soon as Justin started leading the mixed section some flurries also started, giving us a Scotish ice climbing feel. The mixed pitch was much longer than it appeared and climbing through the rock bands was definitely harder than we had expected so we summited in the dark more than 2 hours after Jesse and Dan, who were now in the car and worried about our wellbeing. Thankfully Justin had been on this mountain before and we were able to find the walk off the trail easily. In another hour we were down by the car, both Jesse and Dan took a sigh of relief and Justing and I drove down to grab us some post-summit beer and food!
Right from the start of this trip Jesses had been a little under the weather. From his previous winter climbing trip and his recent trip to Mexico, Jesse had developed a throat infection which constantly kept getting worse. So much so that now he even had a hard time taking. Looking at this Jesse’s worsening condition we decided to end our trip early and switched out flights to return back to San Diego a few days before our original departure date.
I did not get to climb the Mt Washington classics such as Pinnacle, O’Dells, Central, Yale and Damnation Gullies as originally planned but in the end, this was a good trip and soon after our return Jesse’s health improved.
The Shoestring Gully, WI3/M4. Mt Webster
A mix of steep snow and ice
Jesse, leading the way up Shoestring
Justin, Dan and I
A little bit of weather coming in on Mt Webster
A little Scotish ice climbing feel!
Justin leading fun mixed pitch to the top of Mt Webster
Post-summit beer with Justin
Mt Washington offers winter alpine conditions similar to what one might find in Alaska and in the greater ranges. Mt Washington is home to the World’s Worst Weather and the highest recorded wind speed on earth at 231 mph. That makes this a great place to train and gain valuable experience in accessible alpine terrain, all within 3 hours from the road.
Huntington Ravine has wonderful gully climbs. Beginner to Advanced options, ice snow, and rock, with team rope travel and intermediate belays. Pinnacle Gully is the most sought-after classic in New England. 800′ of ice climbing, in a giant runnel of ice splitting a rock buttress. O’Dells, Central, Yale and Damnation Gullies offer high-quality climbing as well. The rocky spines left of O’Dells Gully, the giant Damnation Buttress and the NE Ridge of the Pinnacle offer classic mixed climbs from easy 5th class to 5.8 or so. Cloudwalker is a sweet late winter line as well.
Tuckerman Ravine also has good snow climbing options on its north side. Right Gully and Lobster Claw provide good options to the Lions Head for summit climbs when the snow and weather conditions are good. They are best for advanced beginners. The Tuckerman Ravine headwall offers superb early season ice climbing. It is generally in condition from the end of November to the beginning of January. Options from II-III WI 2 -4.
Mt Washington, East Slope
Thumbs up for the good times!
Coast to Coast! Saw the sun, rise on the East Coast and set on West Coast.